Iron is a mineral that is very important for all of us. Babies and children need iron to help them grow and develop properly. This also includes brain development. Iron is what our bodies use to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps carry oxygen throughout our bodies and is found in red blood cells. When someone doesn’t have enough hemoglobin they can develop iron deficiency anemia.
Breast milk is a really well absorbed form of iron for your baby. Around 6 months a baby’s iron stores start to deplete and the amount of iron in breast milk or formula is not adequate to meet the needs of your growing baby. When starting solid foods you probably hear about how it is important to focus on iron rich foods for you baby. This often leads people to start with iron- fortified infant cereals as a first food because they are concerned about their babies need for iron. While it is true that focusing on iron rich foods is important for your baby I would not recommend starting with those iron-fortified cereals. I like to start babies off with lentils, which is a food that contains iron and is easy to change the consistency of for your baby. You can read more about first food here.
I like to focus on food sources of iron and get a lot of questions as to whether baby should be supplemented with iron. I typically recommend that you introduce an iron rich food to your baby, followed by a food that is a good source of Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps increase the absorption of iron into your baby’s body. Calcium on the other hand inhibits the iron absorbing into your baby’s body and is one of the reason’s I recommend people wait until around 1 year before introducing milk to your baby. If you are feeding dairy foods like cheese and yogurt, etc to your baby before 1 year (which is fine!) I would recommend trying to avoid having them with every meal to ensure that your baby is getting a decent amount of chances throughout the day to have and absorb iron. For example I would offer high iron foods at least 2 times a day. As we know most of the food that is provided for your baby doesn’t actually end up with them eating it.
There are two types of iron found in food: heme and non-heme. Heme iron absorbs better in your baby’s body and is found in meat, seafood, poultry and fish. It is also important to get sources of non-heme iron in your baby’s diet which is found in beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, eggs and whole grains. Cooking in cast-iron is another great way to increase baby’s iron intake. Some examples of iron-rich foods include: dark green leafy vegetables, protein foods including meat, clams, oysters, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, seaweed and kelp, blackstrap molasses, quinoa, green peas, potatoes (with the skin), oats and eggs.
Remember that offering a variety of food to your baby is the key. When you first introduce a food it is important to provide the same food for a few days in a row to be sure your baby does not have an allergy or intolerance to that food. Once you are sure your baby is ok with a food you can continue to offer it in addition to adding new foods into your babies diet. By offering a variety of food, you ensure that they are getting a variety of nutrients, iron being one of them.
By feeding your baby and children iron rich foods, in addition to foods high in Vitamin C throughout the day, you will be providing them opportunities to get the iron they need to grow.
Questions about your baby’s diet or how to increase their iron intake? Contact Jill, Nurture The Future’s Registered Dietitian at firstname.lastname@example.org
PEN food sources of iron